In this review you won't find simply a list of facts you can find anywhere, but rather details from our personal experience as passengers aboard the Disney Wonder in 2007. The fact that I am writing this review 2 years later and can remember so vividly the details should tell you how much we enjoyed our cruise. My goal is to provide inside tips and information that you might not find anywhere else...things I would have found helpful, had I known ahead of time. Disney Cruiseline has a very informative website with statistical facts (i.e. size, capacity,stateroom square footage, etc.) But, for a passengers perspective, along with little things you may be surprised to learn, read on...
PORT CANAVERAL-PARKING-BAGGAGE-PARKING-PARKING ALTERNATIVE
The day we embarked on our 4-day Disney Cruise was full of classic Disney perfection. As a life-long fan of all things Disney, I couldn't wait to walk aboard the Disney Wonder and see what magic was in store for us. Along with my husband of 2 days and my 11 year old son, I arrived at Disney's cruise terminal in Port Canaveral. We were first directed by a parking attendant toward the front door of the building, where baggage handlers were waiting. We exited and took our carry-on bags, as the handlers carried off our other bags. Just like my experiences with workers at Walt Disney World, everyone was smiling, as if they were as happy about our cruise as we were. One handler noticed I was searching one of my bags and offered to help me find something. I told her that I was just making sure my anti-nausea (for sea-sickness) medication was in my purse. She was quick to advise me that now would be a great time to go ahead and take that medication if I am prone to sea-sickness. I felt it was a thoughtful gesture and I took her advice. SIDENOTE: Turns out, I never felt "sea-sick" on the cruise, but since I'm prone to motion sickness, I always advise having some on hand when cruising. I suggest Bonine's once-a-day chewables (non-drowsy). Although it is not required, please tip these very kind hard workers who handle your bags. They are in the sweltering heat of Florida making sure your bags arrive promptly to your stateroom...and doing so with a smile. While my son & I entered the terminal, my husband parked our car in the terminal parking lot, for which there is a pretty hefty fee. Various cruiselines change between $8-15 per day for parking. Since that trip, we have learned that The Country Inn & Suites in Cape Canaveral has a deal with certain rooms that includes parking (though unsecured) for the duration of your cruise, plus a shuttle ride to and from the terminal. For our upcoming 7-day cruise, we are definitely taking advantage of that deal. We are staying for $130, for 1 night, in a 1-BR suite the night before our cruise. That rate includes the parking for 8 total days and the shuttle both ways, saving us enough to almost pay for the suite!
INSIDE THE TERMINAL
Upon entering the Disney Cruiseline terminal, we were directed to a very long line of excited travellers, winding through ropes leading to the check-in counter. Given the length of the line, I expected to be there for hours, but was pleased to discover a Disney employee walking through the line, making sure everyone had what would be needed to avoid delays. Since I was standing in line alone with three passports, he kindly held my place in line while I located my family and had them join me. All parties are required to stand in the check-in line and be presented at the counter for check-in. We had checked-in online prior to our drive to Florida, speeding up our process a little, once at the counter. Over all, the line moved quickly and at the counter each group was given a boarding number. While we waited for the number to be called, we took pictures with the scale model of the ship & people-watched. From baggage handling to boarding took approximately an hour, but the time passed very quickly and the check-in process was very smooth.
WELCOME TO THE DISNEY WONDER
Disney has a special way of welcoming you onto the Wonder. First, you will have your photo taken with your group or family which can be purchased onboard (see PHOTOS later for more details). You enter the gangway though a giant set of mouse ears, greeted by a crew member with a microphone who will ask your last name. Then he or she will announce "Disney welcomes the (name) Family!!" as several other crew members cheer & applaud your arrival, as if they had been waiting there just for YOU to arrive. The first thing you notice, even if you aren't trying to, is the fact that there aren't Mickey Mouse's and Goofy's all over. The Disney Wonder is not, in any way "cartoony". It's tastefully decorated like a classic oceanliner. But if you really pay attention, you'll discover there are what we called, "Hidden Mickeys" all over. The shape of Mickey's head can be found in the elevator shaft dEcor and the stair rails, among other clever locations. The artwork throughout is amazing and the overall theme is Luxury, not Mickey & Minnie. We were directed upstairs to the Beach Blanket Buffet for lunch, as our stateroom were not yet ready. This was a process we were not expecting, but lunch was so fabulous, we didn't mind waiting to see our stateroom at all. Even with hundreds boarding the ship at a time, the buffet line was fast and finding a table on the deck was easy. The buffet was filled with fruit, sandwiches, salmon, several other main dishes and sides, and a variety of desserts. It was a terrific sampling that caused many passengers, including us, to say, "Wow, I wonder what's for dinner!" A word of caution about the Beach Blanket Buffet dining deck...When in port, there will be seagulls flying overhead just waiting for someone to walk away from their tray. A passenger near us DID walk away and returned to an empty tray. Since the buffet is all you can eat, its not a problem, just an inconvenience...but good for a chuckle!
STATEROOM-MUSTER DRILL-BON VOYAGE PARTY
By the time we finished lunch, our stateroom was ready. We were very excited about seeing it. We chose the Deluxe Family Stateroom with Navigator's Verandah. It was beautiful. We were pleased to see lots of drawer space and a generously sized closet. Our luggage had not yet arrived at our stateroom, a process that takes a few hours, at least. It was amazing to me that they were able to organize that many bags in the time they did. Please be prepared to see your bags arrive one-by-one...they will not arrive all at the same time but they will all arrive eventually. Clearly the best feature of our stateroom was the split-bathroom design. You'll see on the floorplans on the website, that in most rooms, there are basically two baths, kind of. One has a commode and sink and the other, a shower and sink. Add this to the mirrored vanity in the room and three people can get ready without being in each other's way. It was definitely a well-planned design that worked very well for the three of us. The bed & the fold out sofa my son slept on were very both comfortable.
I cannot review our stateroom without mentioning the wonderful woman who took care of us each day and night...Monique. She provided adorable towel animals each night, kept our stateroom supplied with ice, turned down our beds and cleaned our stateroom. We never had to ask for anything, as anything we could possibly need was provided without any effort on our parts. We gave her an extra tip, in addition to the standard, due to her kindness, hard work and her efforts to make our vacation perfect. THANK YOU MONIQUE!
If you haven't been on a cruise, you may not be aware that the ship's crew is required to run a mock evacuation/safety demonstration (Muster Drill). Just be glad they aren't required to test out the lifeboats each trip. This drill takes about a half hour, requires that you wear an ugly florescent orange life vest , but is a necessary delay of fun. Trying to avoid it only delays other passengers, so just go with the flow, have a sense of humor and get through the drill. The time of the drill & instructions will be announced on the intercom and on your in room television. Once the Muster Drill ends, passengers return their life vests to their staterooms and most gather on Decks Nine (the pool deck) & Ten (the deck that overlooks the pool) to enjoy a bon voyage drink (for a fee) and enjoy the embarkation party. Disney party includes entertainment by the Cruise Director, Crew Members and some special guests, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Daisy. During all the fun and dancing and singing, we were busy waving the family we left on land, as they had dinner on the patio of Fishlips Restaurant in Port Canaveral. It was a treat for them to see us off and take pictures of us waving bon voyage!
DINNER-THEME NIGHT-DESSERT BUFFET-BREAKFAST-LUNCH
One feature of Disney Cruiselines that I found to be a fabulous twist was "rotational dining". Typically you are seated at the same table, in the same dining room each night of your cruise. With Disney, you are assigned a wait staff, but are seated in one of three dining rooms nightly, with your wait staff following you from dining room to dining room. Parrot Cay has a Caribbean theme, Tritons is an "Under the Sea" themed dining room and Animators Palate is an dining experience like no other. In Animator's Palate, the room and everything in it (including the wait staff's uniforms) is black and white and very brightly lit when you arrive. You are surrounded by drawn images of Disney characters. You almost feel animated, yourself in this environment. During the course of your meal, a carefully choreographed music set becomes more active at times, as the lights dim a bit. You'll hardly notice the transformation unless you're watching for it. By dessert, the walls, the ceiling, and the uniforms worn by the staff are brightly colored, as if the "animator" has painted it while you enjoyed dinner. For details on how Disney made this happen and a million other tips on this cruise, I suggest watching the Disney Cruise special on the Travel Channel. They replay it quite often. We recorded it & watched the show about 20 times before sailing. In our 4-night cruise, our formal night was at Tritons, at which we also had a casual night. We chose the 8:30 dinner seating because we preferred to not cut our afternoons short to go get ready for dinner. This plan worked out beautifully. Our waiter & assistant waiter were fabulous. Their names were Roche and Rolly...nicknamed as a team, "Rock & Roll". They remembered our names and our drink preferences each night. My son, at the time was a little hesitant back then about trying new foods. They served him a steak, broccoli and baked potato each night. He was so very excited to have steak every night! Rolle even cut his steak for him each night. Although my son was capable, he enjoyed Rolle making jokes as he cut his steak. Rolle even fed him a bite while he cut. It was a nice touch & very comical. Everyone asks, "How was the food?" Well, the food was terrific, standing far above that of the finest restaurants I've been to. I am not an adventurous eater but I tried something new every night and was never disappointed. The portions were perfect, leaving us satisfied but never uncomfortably stuffed. The entire dining experience was delightfully delicious and altogether perfect. "Formal night" was not as formal as on some other ships. I don't recall seeing any tuxedos or evening gowns. I do suggest at least wearing suites with ties & a very nice dress. On this night, there is also a theme. Ours was Pirate Night. We were given pirate hats made of napkins to wear during dinner and our waitstaff was dressed in pirate costumes. After dinner, there was a dessert buffet on the pool deck that was so unimaginable that I feel I cannot do it justice with words. During this buffet, "Pirates of the Caribbean" was shown on the enormous TV on this deck. Breakfasts and Lunches are open seating with several options. We chose to have breakfast at the buffet each morning...a fabulous buffet to get our day started.
Throughout your cruise, you will be approached by photographers to pose for pictures. Don't be camera shy when they come around...it's well worth it when it comes time to buy prints. Right after dinner each night, we went to the photography gallery to search for ours. We found that they were very well organized and almost every shot was perfect. While we expected to buy a picture or two, I think we left the ship with at least 5 or 6. In addition to random shots by roaming photogs, there are also formal portrait seatings set up each evening. Some are Disney character-related for kids. The night we decided to have a portrait seating (which is free & worth standing in line for), the theme was "Barefoot". The photographs turned out very nice. coincidentally, the three of us all wore a shade of blue and posed sitting on an all white background barefoot. I highly suggest sitting for this portrait & like the other pictures, these can be purchased, copied, resized or added to a disk in the gallery.
Another wonderful feature is the pool variety and the entire deck design. The pool deck, deck nine is separated into three completely different environments, each with its own freshwater pool: The Disney Wonder has a "Mickey" shaped pool for kids at one end, with a slide and a certain famous mouse's face at the bottom. I did notice a sign that children wearing diapers, pull-ups, or even swim diapers were not allowed in the pool. I have no idea how much this is enforced by the cruiseline, so I would ask ahead of time if I had small children. This pool is adjacent to the free refreshment area, a burger stand that offers much more than burgers, and the ice cream machine. In the middle of Deck nine is a "Goofy" family pool in the middle, which is sometimes covered to accommodate dancing or chairs for the nightly movie.. This pool is a simple rectangle. It isn't terrible large but is never seems to be overcrowded. We used this pool on our day at sea and, even then, with everyone on board, we did not feel crowded. This pool is surrounded by a pizza stand on one end and the video arcade on the other. There are also movies or Disney shows playin on the giant TV hanging above the deck, viewable from this pool. Beyond the family pool, you'll walk though a transition of space where even the music changes. This area is an adults only pool called Quiet Cove. It is complete with hot tubs, a beautiful pool and a bar. I highly recommend escaping to this pool with a tropical drink, even if just for a moment. We enjoyed relaxing in this area after a long day of walking Nassau.
Each night, we went to the pre-dinner show at around 6:45. The shows were amazing. The performances were very impressive, even to my son. The younger children in house must have been thoroughly entertained because we weren't aware they were in the theatre until we walked out with them. In typical Disney fashion, they managed to mesmerize adults and children alike. As I write this, I am trying to claim a favorite and I simply cannot. I was completely impressed with each and every show. Other than the Broadway-like shows, we also went to a family oriented comedy show. It was short but cute. The comedian messed with my son a little, which was funny.
NASSAU & CASTAWAY CAY
Most of this section will be about Castaway Cay. I have now been to Nassau twice and consider it an excellent opportunity to spend the stop onboard the ship to enjoy its features while everyone is elsewhere. If I am ever on a cruise that goes to Nassau again, I do plan to go to Atlantis, probably the only worthwhile feature of the destination. With that said, if a stop in Nassau is your only way to visit Castaway Cay...embrace the time you spend there as a means to see Disney's private island...it's worth it! Castaway Cay is Disney's private island in the Bahamas. On the day we were to arrive there, my husband woke us up early so we could have breakfast and watch the ship dock on the island. As it turns out, we were seated for breakfast just in time to watch the ship take its spot right at the island's dock. From pictures on the website, we instantly identified that the family beach was the main point of view. It had rather still, crystal blue water. The white powdery sand was raked perfectly as if we were the first to step on this island. If you want to send family back home something special, I suggest you prepare some postcards to friends, family and to yourself (yes, to YOURSELF), take them to the little island Post Office and buy special Castaway Cay stamps. Your postcard will be postmarked from Castaway Cay and will arrive at their addressees in a couple of weeks. The Castaway Cay post office is located about 50 yards from the ship and only takes cash. You will be reminded several times that no cash is needed on the island but definitely take a few dollars to mail postcards. When we received our postcard at home that we wrote to ourselves, we had been home two weeks or so and were still in a vacation haze from our trip. Seeing the card in the mailbox sparked a special moment of tropical bliss as we remembered our experience. I realize how crazy that sounds, but wait...you'll see. Shortly past the post office is a shuttle stopping first at to the family beach, then the Teen beach and Serenity Bay, the Adult Beach. My son was not old enough to go to the Teen Beach so we stayed with him at the Family Beach the whole day. I would have loved to have seen the Adult Beach and will definitely see it next time. The Family Beach was wonderful. My son played "Survivor" on the in-water jungle gym as we floated on rented floats and tubes. These rentals were very reasonably priced and were for the entire day. We also purchased a soft cooler filled with ice and 6 non-alcoholic drinks of our choice for about $20, a great value considering the cooler had the Castaway Cay logo and was of great quality. Later in the day, we had arranged ahead of time to rent bikes to tour the island on our own. We picked from adorable sort of old-fashioned bikes and rode through the island, taking in its beauty. We did pass the Adult Beach and of what we could see, definitely serene..in fact, surprisingly empty. Lunch on the island was fabulous. The Beach Blanket Buffet on the ship closes and the same buffet, with a caribbean twist, is served on the island instead. We feasted on burgers, BBQ, salad, fruit, ice cream and listened to caribbean music. It was very enjoyable. On the island, we also bought t-shirts and found that most souvenirs were not outrageously prices as we expected. Some of the more attractive shirts were priced as low as $12-15. I don't mind admitting, that as our visit to Castaway Cay ended and we shuttled back to the ship, I had moments where I could have been convinced to give up my life back home to live, or even work on the island. Back on the ship, I couldn't help but gaze at the beautiful island and wish... When the ship pulls out of its dock at Castaway Cay, crew members who are staying behind to clean up and prepare for the next visitors stand on the dock and wave with giant Mickey Mouse hands, a very cute touch.
What I have written doesn't begin to cover our experience aboard the Disney Wonder. Not only do I recommend this trip, I highly encourage anyone and everyone to take this adventure. Large families, Couples without children, Extended families...anyone. After we came home, my parents-in-law & my sister-in-law with her family, immediately booked the same cruise, only with two stops at Castaway instead of Nassau. They also enjoyed the trip very much.
There are other cruiselines where you'll spend a little less and, in a few cases, a lot less, for a family cruise. With that said, I can say it was worth every hard earned penny and we will certainly do it again in the future. Disney is launching two new ships over the next few years and we plan to be on at least one of them.
I will soon be reviewing Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, now sailing from Port Canaveral, Florida. We set sail on this adventure, June 09. Read Less